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Autism/update on James, turning 4 tomorrow


Dear Dr. Mitchell,

I wrote to you a year ago regarding my son James’ development.  You had requested an update in a year; here it is.

James is now one day shy of his 4th birthday.  Some of the concerns that I wrote previously have resolved or diminished to the point that I do not consider them worrisome.  Some ‘quirks’ persist.  I will detail those here:

1.His palate is still very limited.  He has about a dozen foods that he will eat on a regular basis. I cannot pick up a pattern in terms of temperature, texture, sweet/salty, etc.  We are working on getting him to tolerate foods that he does not care for and I believe we are making some progress, albeit slow.  His stool remains quite soft.  He is potty trained and regular and tells me that his tummy does not hurt.

2.He continues to be quite content to play alone if the activity suits him.  Unlike his older brother who is looking for human interaction constantly, James will work on puzzles, build traintracks or play with any number of his toys on his own without complaint.  He does not avoid other children however.  Just last weekend he had a like-aged playmate (whom he had never met before) come over to play.  They spent over 2 hours playing together without intervention or redirection from us (the mothers).  He actively looks to engage others (both children and adults) in games and activities that interest him.

3.If you are having a conversation with him he does not always engage in a natural give and take.  For instance I might ask him a question about what he had for lunch that day and he might respond with a comment about something unrelated or a question of his own.  If I say to him “James, what was the question that I asked?” he can repeat it and answer but it is not a reliable and natural go-to unless he is intrinsically interested or invested in the topic at hand.  It is hard to describe this particular quirk in a format such as this.

James has been at daycare since a young age.  His main teacher advised me this August that he was more than ready for junior kindergarten (though he is not eligible to attend until September 2013).  In the last year he has attended swimming lessons (he had an extreme fear of water from infanthood and still resists putting his face in though he now loves to play in the water) and skating lessons with great success.  He downhill skied with the family last winter.  Soccer this past summer was less successful but he made it through the season.  

He is on hiatus from speech therapy (since May) at the suggestion of this therapist.  To paraphrase, she didn’t feel right about taking our money for the sessions when he was testing in a typical range.  We are going for a follow up appointment next week for an evaluation.

His relationship with his older brother has evolved and the two of them will play together for longer periods of time now in a variety of activities from horseplay to games (Candyland, modified rules Yahtzee, modified card games such as ‘war’ and cribbage) to building activities to imaginative games.  It’s a love-hate relationship but after all, they are brothers.

His overall behaviour is good.  He is quick with social conventions such as please, thank-you and sorry; he follows directions from adults very well.  I don’t worry about taking him anywhere, his behaviour is predictable and pleasant; I don’t fear him running off like he used to.  He is at least as self-sufficient as his older brother and in some ways moreso.  He prefers to do things for himself.

So much about James is good, wonderful even.  But some patterns of behaviour and communication persist that keep me on alert.  I suspect that as social demands begin to escalate that we might see more clearly any deficits that may exist.  I am both excited and anxious about starting kindergarten in September.

Katie, it is wonderful to hear about all the progress James has made. Thank you so much for writing back.

The speech therapist was sensitive to your previous concerns and will be well aware of children on the autism spectrum. If she says that your son is now testing within the average range, you should heave a sigh of relief. She'll see many preschoolers and be a good judge of the peers he'll meet in junior K.

James' experiences in daycare will help prepare him for school. The transition will be easier on him than on kids who have only been at home.

Many of us are quirky. Only a small group of people would fall firmly into the category we label as "normal". The rest of us have habits that put us in the middle or on the fringes sometimes. Quirky is okay and interesting. It's when the quirkiness interferes with your life functioning that it becomes a concern.

Even if his preferred mode is to spend time in solitary pursuits, it sounds like James can also successfully play with others. Great!

I understand why you'll be watchful as he enters the school system and experiences the new demands there. From what you say, I think the transition will go well. The next major transition for many kids is middle school and the early teen years when the social pressures to conform increase. But, that's far down the road for you.

In the interval, you might find some of the strategies in my book useful; at least you will get some other ideas from it. It was free on Amazon, but this week Amazon changed the price to $1.00. You can take a look at

James sounds like a typical little boy. There is a possibility that he may have had some traits in common with high functioning kids on the autism spectrum but with the help of an alert mom, he has acquired skills and moved past that. If you notice him having difficulties in future, you will do the same thing.  

Best wishes and give yourself (and James!) a pat on the back.



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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell


Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.


Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Website at and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (

Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. ( Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at Co-author of bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (

B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. ( Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon ( Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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